Telecommunications in North Korea

Telecommunications in North Korea

Communications in North Korea refers to the communication services available in North Korea. North Korea has yet to fully adopt mainstream internet technology due to its isolationist policies.[1]



Most of these are installed in government offices, collective farms, and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), with only perhaps 10 percent controlled by individuals or households. By 1970 automatic switching facilities were in use in Pyongyang, Sinŭiju, Hamhŭng, and Hyesan. A few public telephone booths were beginning to appear in Pyongyang around 1990. In the mid-1990s, an automated exchange system based on an E-10A system produced by Alcatel joint-venture factories in China was installed in Pyongyang. North Koreans announced in 1997 that automated switching had replaced manual switching in P’yongyang and 70 other locales.[2] North Korean press reported in 2000 that fiber-optic cable had been extended to the port of Nampho and that North Pyongan province had been connected with fiber-optic cable.

International connection

International fixed line connections consist of a network connecting Pyongyang to Beijing and Moscow, and Chongjin to Vladivostok. Communications were opened with South Korea in 2000. On May 2006 TransTeleCom Company and North Korea’s Ministry of Communications have signed an agreement for the construction and joint operation of a fiber-optic transmission line (FOTL) in the section of the Khasan–Tumangang railway checkpoint. This is the first direct land link between Russia and North Korea. TTC’s partner in the design, construction, and connection of the communication line from the Korean side to the junction was Korea Communication Company of North Korea’s Ministry of Communications. The technology transfer was be built around STM-1 level digital equipment with the possibility of further increasing bandwidth. The construction was completed in 2007.[3]

Since joining Intersputnik in 1984, North Korea has operated 22 lines of frequency-division multiplexing and 10 lines of single channel per carrier for communication with Eastern Europe.[4] and in late 1989 international direct dialing service was introduced from Hong Kong. A satellite ground station near Pyongyang provides direct international communications using the International Telecommunications Satellite Corporation (Intelsat) Indian Ocean satellite. A satellite communications center was installed in Pyongyang in 1986 with French technical support. An agreement to share in Japan's telecommunications satellites was reached in 1990. North Korea joined the Universal Postal Union in 1974 but has direct postal arrangements with only a select group of countries.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the telephone system is inadequate and no telephone directories are available. There were 1.18 million telephone main lines in use in 2007.

Fiber Optic lines

Following the agreement with UNDP, the Pyongyang Fiber Optic Cable Factory was built in April 1992 and the country’s first optical fiber cable network consisting of 480 Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) lines and 6 automatic exchange stations from Pyongyang to Hamhung (300 kilometers) was installed in September 1995.[5] Moreover, the nationwide land leveling and rezoning campaign initiated by Kim Jong Il in Kangwon province in May 1998[6] and in North Pyongan province in January 2000[7] facilitated the construction of provincial and county fiber optic lines, which were laid by tens of thousands of KPA soldier-builders and provincial shock brigade members mobilized for the large-scale public works projects designed to rehabilitate the hundreds of thousands of hectares of arable lands devastated by the natural disasters in the late 1990s.

Mobile phones

In November 2002, mobile phones were introduced to North Korea and by November 2003, 20,000 North Koreans had bought mobile phones. On May 24, 2004, however, mobile phones were banned.[8] North Korea supposedly still has a mobile network in Pyongyang which is open for government officials only. Foreigners are not allowed to use (and also until recently to keep) mobile phones in North Korea, although certain high profile visitors such as leadership from the New York Philharmonic which visited North Korea in February 2008, were given rental phones to facilitate direct international communications.

In December 2008, a mobile phone service was launched in Pyongyang with current plans to expand coverage to all parts of the country. It is being installed and managed by the Egyptian company Orascom.[9] The official name of the 3G mobile phone service in North Korea is called Koryolink, and is a joint venture between Orascom and the state-owned Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC).[10] There has been a large demand for the service since it was launched, even among ordinary citizens.[11] In November 2009, Time magazine reported that on a recent group tour, the North Korean tour guide had a mobile phone which was a gift from her boyfriend.[12] In their first quarter 2011 earnings release, Orascom reports more than 500,000 North Korean subscribers after two years of operation.[13] The foreign joint-venture Daedong Credit Bank in Pyongyang gives a North Korean mobile phone number with their contact details.[14]

Current domestic North Korean subscriptions to the Koryolink mobile phone network are around 185,000.[15]

As of May 2011, 60% of Pyongyang's citizens between the age of 20 and 50 have a cellphone.[16]

On June 15th, 2011, confirmed that some North Koreans use Apple's iPhone and Nokia's smartphones.[17]

Black market cell phones

Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, says that Chinese cellphones have reached North Korea through the black market in spite of government efforts to ban them. As the number of people using them grows, it is likely that cellphones that are web-enabled through Chinese servers will become more common. In addition, South Korean companies such as Samsung have been increasing their market share in China, which will likely lead North Koreans to have Korean-language information through their cellphones.[18]


Broadcasting in North Korea is tightly controlled by the state and is used as a propaganda arm of the ruling Korean Workers' Party. The Korean Central Television station is located in Pyongyang, and there also are stations in major cities, including Chŏngjin, Kaesŏng, Hamhŭng, Haeju, and Sinŭiju. There are three channels in Pyongyang but only one channel in other cities. Imported Japanese-made color televisions have a North Korean brand name superimposed, but nineteen-inch black-and-white sets have been produced locally since 1980. One estimate places the total number of television sets in use in the early 1990s at 250,000 sets.


Visitors are not allowed to bring a radio. As part of the government's information blockade policy, North Korean radios and televisions must be modified to receive only government stations. These modified radios and televisions should be registered at special state department. They are also subject to inspection at random. The removal of the official seal is punishable by law. In order to buy a TV-set or a radio, Korean citizens are required to get special permission from officials at their places of residence or employment.[citation needed]

North Korea has two AM radio broadcasting networks, Pyongyang Broadcasting Station (Radio Pyongyang) and Korean Central Broadcasting Station, and one FM network, Pyongyang FM Broadcasting Station. All three networks have stations in major cities that offer local programming. There also is a powerful shortwave transmitter for overseas broadcasts in several languages.

The official government station is the Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS), which broadcasts in Korean. In 1997 there were 3.36 million radio sets.


International Internet access is via a fiber-optic cable connecting Pyongyang with Dandong, China via Sinuiju. North Korea's first Internet café opened in 2002 as a joint venture with South Korean internet company Hoonnet. It is connected via a line to China. Foreign visitors can link their computers to the Internet through international phone lines available in a few hotels in Pyongyang. In 2005 a new internet café opened in Pyongyang, connected not through China, but through the North Korean satellite link. Content is most likely filtered by North Korean government agencies.[19][20] In 2003 a joint venture called KCC Europe between businessman Jan Holterman in Berlin and the North Korean government brought the commercial Internet to North Korea. The connection is established through a satellite link from North Korea to servers located in Germany. This link ended the need to dial ISPs in China.[21]

KCC Europe administers the .kp country code top-level domain (ccTLD) from Berlin, where many official North Korean websites are hosted including Naenara.


  1. ^ High-tech revolution yet to hit North Korea
  2. ^ Lee, 2003
  3. ^ TransTeleCom is to build first land link with North Korea
  4. ^ Yoon and Lee 2001
  5. ^ "Cable Production Base" "Naenara," Korea Today, No. 602 (8), 2006
  6. ^ History of Land Rezoning in the DPRK, KCNA, 11 May 2005
  7. ^ Kim Jong Il, "Improving the Layout of the Fields Is a Great Transformation of Nature for the Prosperity and Development of the Country, a Patriotic Work of Lasting Significance,"Rodong Sinmun, 18 April 2000
  8. ^ "World briefings: North Korea", New York Times, June 4, 2004.
  9. ^ "Secretive N Korea set to launch mobile phone service", Associated Press, December 4, 2008.
  10. ^ "3세대이동통신서비스 《고려링크》 시작 천리마 속도로 정보통신 현대화 노린다". 민족 21 (94). 2009-01-01. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  11. ^ (accessed 18 November 2009)
  12. ^ Jones, Gary (2009-11-04). "Vacationing in Lovely... North Korea?". Time.,31542,1934500,00.html. 
  13. ^ (accessed 20 May 2011)
  14. ^ [1] (accessed 18 November 09)
  15. ^ Young-jin, Kim (2010-08-13). "Cell phones become more popular in N. Korea". Yonhap News. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  16. ^ Phone Handset Prices Fall as Users Rise, DailyNK, 20 May 2011
  17. ^ Kang (강), Jin-gyu (진규) (2011-06-15). "북한에서도 아이폰 사용 첫 확인" (in Korean). Digital Times. Retrieved 2011-07-08. 
  18. ^ Rebecca MacKinnon (2005-02-03). "Chinese Cell Phone Breaches North Korean Hermit Kingdom". Nautilus Institute. 
  19. ^ Foster-Carter, Aidan (2002-07-06). "North Korea's tentative telecoms". Asia Times. Retrieved 2007-05-11. 
  20. ^ "First Internet Cafe Opens in Pyongyang". The Chosun Ilbo. 2002-05-27. Retrieved 2007-05-11. [dead link]
  21. ^ Lintner, Bertil (2007-04-24). "North Korea's IT revolution". Asia Times. Retrieved 2007-05-11. 

External links

  • North Korea Uncovered, (North Korea Google Earth) See most of North Korea's communications facilities, including: The Korea Computer Center, the Pyongyang Television Tower, the KCBS tower, the major communications center in Heaju, as well as satellite communications stations near Pyongyang.

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